Three Poems by Carmen Aiken

Three Poems 


Carmen Aiken



The Watch Sister


“I am sorry; I am a hermit; I am modestly clothed mostly in my own neglect.”

-Elizabeth Robinson


how ending starts: nights and red light phone calls, look to older brothers yet no answers.

Explained it to me a neutron bomb in the belly of a kitty cat that

tick tick meow tick tick meow only then just tick tick

no (sound) now.


Tell me again: I’m a boy not a timebomb. I’m not made of glass.


tick tick now: Now, a noose; a lake; a drown. There’s too much age to look for a reason and only enough

to find rhyme. In two years I came of age and ticked and ticked and ticked and ticked: asleep, a rope, a sleep, a lake.


After the war he said: watch for circles coming too close.

I’m sorry, he said, that’s the way it goes.


winter: even in and not out all you fall, fall apart. Do mothers hate their children if they topple first? Nero

played and Rome burned. these nights in the cellar the sirens could be echoes, not really heard.

even Dresden had a sister city.


No one asks: don’t you resent it?

Don’t I? No.


the story is: Little Boy dropped down on that city Little Bit Brother did you ever dream of

the end of the world? after another stopped spring I have less trouble seeing it.

How it happens after, like shrapneled brothers, disaster.


Mayday: he’s dead, I go down. The body so easy to fall to the ground.





Like this halfie heart, a pantoum split and mended


They didn’t do this with daughters.

He sighs and drives

works the rage of men

out into the road, the miles,


and he sighs, drives

the son to weekly sessions to

work the rage of men or the between.

Ma and I knew it was of boys.


So the son. Two weekly sessions

mostly involving a tired mother, that is

Ma. I knew it was of boys

this fear of abandonment


mostly involving a tired mother

that sensitive psych ward son, always

this fear of abandoned ship!

a youngest son and his slit wrists.


Psych ward son(!) always such a sensitive

link. So much father and daughter don’t speak

think a son and his slit wrists.

After all what’s a family to do?


This links so much. Do fathers and daughters speak

of how to bleed out a family? Do my sons have names?
After all, what’s a family? Do two

daughters with fathers’ names count? What I want is to know


how to not bleed out a family. My sons do have names

probably of my father. My rage can’t pass on

with daughters. Nor father’s names for what I want.

I know he doesn’t know what to do with this son.


Probably. My father, my rage passes on.

How we all work. Our rage of men.

I know. He doesn’t know what to do.Oh these sons.

They didn’t do this with the daughter.






Into the Woods

A story thrives on immediacy. Thus in the short time after a subject, a sister, creates fable.

Now this is no fable. Cautionary tales, no—our children wander into the woods anyway,

woods worse these days. Girls extinguishing to themselves, ribs embering collapsed ash,

boys sliding up hazy bean poles and slipping, noosed amongst vines.


The mother not the same as the witch. A house not made of sugar. Sisters understand money tight.

Is refusal of food and starvation the same? She shrank only after we bolted, diminishing even as

I came back. Gretel’s father keeps everyone fed. How to face a wandering son? He found more wood, wasn’t home often. Brother’s insides hollowed, hollowed.


Our trail never got left. Brother led. Sister followed, always followed. Drove to green leafed parties, down

stairs roads and roads and roads and roads. Fable making takes a girl with quiet blood of seven swans, cavalry horns. Fables burn if a selfless mother sister has a singing voice. Fathers absently heroes. Gretel won’t give up even after the continual walk through the forest. We saw the trees.


The house sweet as we want to believe what children cling to. Fable, too. House of sugarglass

we could throw our fists through. His stomach scarred white while sister curled in cold oven. Cold sterile sheeted bed. Cherry tongue emerging exit night lights. Can’t see the children in rib cage


Brother curls the bars stainless steel steak knives razor blades soldering irons. Hansel a brave boy.

Brothers become brave. When I broke him free I buried the steel in the backyard.

No trail. Those houses, those thickets of trees.


Children this care of children. Not children. And we?

After the fable I can’t remember.



Carmen Aiken



Carmen A. Aiken is a writer from Chicago, IL. Recently she has had work published in the Linden Avenue Literary Journal, This Recording and will be featured in the inaugural Best American Experimental Writing, forthcoming this fall.